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Hindi Kornbluth

The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art

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Will making rockstars out of women in science get more girls interested in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields?

This week in my bioelectricity class, my classmates and I realized that this was the first engineering class any of us had ever taken where there were more women than men enrolled. We also realized that for most of us, this class, taught by TED fellow Nina Tandon, was the first engineering class we had taken to be taught by a female professor.

Finding ways to close the gender gap in science/technology/engineering/math (i.e. STEM) fields is a hot topic, and there are many discussions out there highlighting the many forces that could be at work: gender-biasing in toys, a culture that tends to oversexualize women (see: the “40 Hottest Women in Tech” list published by Complex Magazine earlier this year), or links between a society’s gender equality and female performance in the sciences. Particularly interesting is the recent finding that 15-year-old girls around the world outperform boys in science, but not in the US, Britain, and Canada.

Thinking back to Nina’s class, I wondered if we could use this class as a microcosm and ask, might we be able to get more interested in STEM fields by providing more female role models?

The potential role models are out there: women from history, like Ada Lovelace, arguably the world’s first computer programmer, and Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA. There’s Lise Meitner, who helped discover nuclear fission, and Emelie Du Chatelet, who predicted the existence of infrared radiation and proved that kinetic energy was proportional to v^2. For more modern inspirations, see: http://blog.ted.com/2012/07/03/more-than-75-tedtalks-showing-women-in-science-and-tech/

In 2009, the NSF reported that than 20% of engineering students were women, out of almost 500,000 students in total. Inspiring young women to go into engineering in equal numbers to men would translate to the education of another 300,000 engineers in the United States alone. How do we make this happen?

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    Apr 13 2013: I have no negative vibes about the rockstar issue. I feel positive that as far as science is considered it is iconoclastic. We don't need to fashion science or scientists as geeky and humor constipated. I also don't think this is basically a feminine idea (I would have no qualms had it been so) but science can have a lighter side too and scientists can be very interesting people. I think Richard Feynman was a rockstar of a scientist.
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      Apr 13 2013: What negative vibes? I didn't say I don't like rockstar female scientists - my point in previous comment was that not everyone can be a rockstar (then "being a rockstar" would kinda loose a point, right?) It's important to analyze how majority of women in science (STEM fields) can improve their positions - having several examples of female rockstar scientists of course helps a lot, but does not solve the whole problem. Becoming a rockstar is a result of so many factors - and not every female scientist has access to all of those...to conclude, I was not making a point against rockstar female scientists - in fact I love rockstar female scientists and would like to see as many of them as possible - but I do think that it is not enough to inspire more young women to go into engineering in equal numbers to men (which was Hindi's direct question if I understood it properly) so I suggested some more steps in that direction
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        Apr 13 2013: That's great! :) I didn't say you don't like rockstar female scientists either. But I know for a fact many, men and women both, look down upon scientists who are flamboyant, colorful and wear a rather fashionable look. I think we all know what it takes to be a good and credible scientist and that doesn't include the private life and attitude of her as a person.

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